Volume 22 Issue 6, June 2018
 
 

 

“The sanctity of the vote has been reduced to nothing”, said ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addressing supporters in Sargodha in February 2018. He added that “there has been ‘contempt’ of the millions of people who voted for PML-N” and “PML-N won’t respect those who don’t respect the vote.”

Nawaz Sharif was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan for the third time in 2013 and was disqualified by the Supreme Court (SC) in a landmark decision on the infamous Panama Papers case in 2017. Sharif stepped down from the post after the court’s ruling. However, showing his reservations on the SC’s verdict, he has since then been trying to garner support of his followers, first, by questioning why he was ousted – Mujhey Kiyon Nikala? - while he was elected by millions of voters and, later, by raising the slogan of “Give Respect to the Vote” - Vote ko izzat do. This has now become the basic manifesto of the PML-N for the coming elections. At different public gatherings, the ousted prime minister now asserts that the people would be respected if the vote is respected. His post-disqualification mantra against the Judiciary is that he repeatedly demands to know why he was ousted.

The way Pakistan’s politics has been shaped in the last one year is an interesting study. The demand about giving respect to the vote and voters surfaced only when Nawaz Sharif was disqualified and the Supreme Court ordered an accountability court to open corruption references against him, his family and other accused. Considering the fact that Nawaz Sharif was elected as Prime Minister of Pakistan for the third time, it needs to be examined whether the respect for the vote, which Sharif is demanding, was duly given during in all his tenures? It is also important to know as to what kind of respect is he asking for.

In a recent address in the Bahawalpur district, Sharif explained that “’Respect for the vote’ means people should be given respect and no one should have a right to disrespect their mandate.” He questioned the decision of the Judiciary by saying that “A panel of five judges disrespected the people’s mandate by disqualifying me.” It is clear that Sharif and his PML-N are throwing their support behind the power of the vote and trying to engineer en a rationale that an elected leader cannot be disqualified by the court, whatever his wrongdoings.

It seems that Sharif and his party are forwarding the claim that there is an exemption or privilege for a democratically elected leader from court verdicts. The reality is just the opposite. There are many democratically elected leaders in the world who have either faced impeachment or have resigned from their posts on the basis of corruption charges. A recent and relevant example following the revelations of the Panama Papers is that of Iceland. In 2016, Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson stepped down after leaked documents from a Panamanian law firm accused his wife of having an offshore company.

The vote and voters are indeed essential for democracies and for the political process. Democracy, by definition is, “government by the people in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system." In Pakistan, unfortunately, the meaning of democracy or the democratic process has been limited to the regular holding of elections while the other components of democracy are neglected. Rule of law and equality before the law for all citizens are the pillars of democracy which are often ignored in the Pakistani context. Democracy is a system of rule by laws and not by individuals. No one is above the law, not even the elected prime minister or president. There is no exemption for anyone in democracy and the rule of law places limits on the power of government. The office-bearers cannot use their power to enrich themselves, nor can the courts punish those who are accused of corruption, be they prime minister or president.

In the current scenario, raspect for the vote and voters by the ruling appears to be a paradox. The Supreme Court disqualified Nawaz Sharif because he did not disclose his employment in the Dubai-based Capital FZE Company in his 2013 election nomination papers.

Being dishonest to the voters is nothing but disrespect for the vote. This was also not the first time a ruling party and its leaders had disrespected the vote and voters. Tenures of many political parties have been marked by widespread corruption, nepotism, mismanagement and extraction of benefits for themselves while in office. Such practices and the fact that they considered themselves above the law was certainly against the spirit of democracy. Respect to the vote and voters can only be given when the electorate and the elected leaders become equal citizens. The true essence of democracy lies in having free, fair and ‘fearless’ elections, protection of human rights, equality of all citizens and establishment of the rule of law. This is how respect can be shown to the vote and voters.

The writer teaches International Relations at the University of Karachi and IBA.
 
 
 
 
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